text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation
News
design element
News
News From the Field
For the News Media
Special Reports
Research Overviews
NSF-Wide Investments
Speeches & Lectures
NSF Current Newsletter
Multimedia Gallery
News Archive
News by Research Area
Arctic & Antarctic
Astronomy & Space
Biology
Chemistry & Materials
Computing
Earth & Environment
Education
Engineering
Mathematics
Nanoscience
People & Society
Physics
 

Email this pagePrint this page


Press Release 10-102
Caribbean Coral Reef Protection Efforts Miss the Mark

Evolutionary potential, edge zones, should be considered as factors

Photo of a thriving, healthy Carribean coral reef.

A thriving, healthy Carribean coral reef today: its evolution is an important factor in its future.
Credit and Larger Version

June 17, 2010

Conservation efforts aimed at protecting endangered Caribbean corals may be overlooking regions where corals are best equipped to evolve in response to global warming and other climate challenges.

That's the take-home message of a paper published in this week's issue of the journal Science by researchers Ann Budd of the University of Iowa and John Pandolfi of the University of Queensland, Australia.

Budd and Pandolfi focus on understanding the biodiversity of reef-building corals--organisms that are highly diverse and seriously threatened.

Their work focuses on evolutionary processes documented in the fossil record over long time periods, a history that encompasses and shows the effects of global environmental change.

"The research demonstrates that the predominance of evolutionary innovation occurs at the outlying edges of Caribbean coral species ranges, as opposed to the well-connected central part of the Caribbean," said H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research along with NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

The scientists conclude that if coral reef conservation strategies protect only the centers of high species richness, they will miss important sources of evolutionary novelty during periods of global change.

"Current conservation priorities are calculated on the basis of species richness, endemism [geographical uniqueness] and threats," said Budd.

"However, areas ranked highly for these factors may not represent regions of maximum evolutionary potential."

Budd and Pandolfi conducted their study by analyzing the relationship between geography and evolutionary innovation in a complex of Caribbean reef corals where morphological and genetic data match on species differences.

Based on a comparison of fossil corals and modern colonies, the scientists found that morphological disparity varies from the center to the edge of the Caribbean, and that lineages are static at well-connected central locations--but split or fuse in edge zones.

"The results show that edge zones are critical to biodiversity," Budd said.

The findings mirror those of studies of the molecular biogeography of sea urchins and other marine invertebrates, she said, and are important to understanding the evolutionary ecology of the sea under projected global climate change.

The scientists argue for a coral reef conservation strategy that not only takes into account biodiversity hotspots, but also focuses on evolutionary processes and the preservation of peripheral areas of species ranges, as well as connectivity among populations.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov
Gary Galluzzo, University of Iowa, (319) 384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

 

Photo of a fossil of an extinct species of coral.
Scientists are studying extinct species of coral to learn about reefs today.
Credit and Larger Version

Photo of a fossil coral reef in Barbados which has several extinct species.
A coral reef in Barbados called the Montastraea annularis complex has several extinct species.
Credit and Larger Version

Photo of an extinct pipe-organ coral.
An extinct pipe-organ coral at the geographic edge of current reef distributions.
Credit and Larger Version

Photo of an extinct platy morphospecies within a Caribbean coral reef complex.
An extinct platy morphospecies within a Caribbean coral reef complex.
Credit and Larger Version

Cover of the June 18, 2010 issue of the journal Science.
The researcher's findings appear in the June 18, 2010 issue of the journal Science.
Credit and Larger Version



Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page